By now you’ve probably seen the logo; the wobbly yellow ‘i’ has adorned everything from the London underground and local buses to the cars of the Renault Formula 1 team. But what is i-mode, and why should you care that O2 has launched the UK’s first i-mode service?
i-mode is a mobile internet service created by NTT DoCoMo, a giant telecommunications company from Japan. It takes the idea of WAP and slims it down so that internet services and functions such as email will work faster and more seamlessly with your mobile phone. Like GPRS services, you pay only for the files and data that you download, rather than the time you spend online. The service was launched in Japan in 1999 and has exceeded all expectations and there are now over 94,000 i-mode sites offering everything from restaurant booking to weather reports to online shopping.
i-mode has only just reached our shores courtesy of O2 and it’ll be a while until it becomes as popular as it is in Japan, mainly because you’ll need an i-mode compatible handset. These are few and far between – O2 offers just four such models, two each from NEC and Samsung – but that’s largely because there’s been no call for them thus far. There are already big-name websites getting onboard, though; online bank Egg.com, The Times newspaper, recruitment service Monster.co.uk, florist Interflora and Lastminute.com are among the many involved. It’s good news for gamers, as well, as Sega, Taito, JamData, Capcom, Gameloft and In-Fusio, among others, have an i-mode presence, too.
But what are the immediate benefits? The first is that using mobile internet services is a lot easier. You can launch the i-mode service by pressing the dedicated button that compatible handsets all have. Browsing sites is quicker than using WAP and you can include links to pages and sites in text messages that you send to your friends. These links can be clicked on and opened by the recipient from within the text message. While you do need an i-mode-compatible handset, you don’t need to be on 3G.
When you’re visiting a site you can opt to call a number that’s displayed on the page without having to exit the browser and you can even have the businesses operating the sites call you by clicking on the ‘Call Me’ link that many feature. It should also be cheaper; when using WAP you pay for the time you spend online, while when using i-mode you’re only billed for the data you download.
You can also use i-mail, which works just like email. Each phone has an individual i-mail address, usually your telephone number, so 01234567890 at 02imail.co.uk, for instance, which can be customised so that you could have 'mike at 02imail.co.uk', for example (just as long as it’s unique). This enables you to send i-mails to other i-mode phone users or to people’s regular email address.
There’ll be lots of further developments as i-mode gains a bigger foothold in the UK and we’ll keep you updated here at Pocket Gamer as it’s certainly an intriguing technology.